Thursday, May 14, 2015

Could Nessie Be An Otter?

A while back I put forth the hypothesis that the Loch Ness Monster could actually be a large sturgeon. Now another expert has come forth claiming that, in fact, people who think they are seeing the monster may actually just be spotting otters. It is true that swimming otters can look like that "humps" that are often attributed to otters, and I was rather surprised at the photograph above, which shows an otter swimming in such a way that it presents the illusion of a head plus two humps. The first hump is formed by the back, and the second by the tail being held in just the right position.

The image was taken by Dr Jonathan Wills, off Lerwick in Shetland, and is of a female otter known locally as Dratsie. Her head, back and tail form three very distinctive humps which, at a distance could be mistaken for a much larger creature.

Dr Wills says the image taken this week proves the beast said to prowl the depths of Loch Ness, hundreds of miles away, is more likely a 4ft otter than a monster. But despite Nessie experts admitting some sightings can be put down to a case of mistaken identity, they continue to insist Loch Ness is home to an unrecorded creature.

Dr Wills, owner of Seabirds-and-Seals boat trips, took the photo while skippering near the north end of Bressay island. He said: ‘We know there are otters in Loch Ness. You can understand why some people believe in the Loch Ness monster when you see three distant humps like this in the water.’

It is well known that people have a hard time judging the sizes of distant objects in the water. Otters may only be four feet long, but that's not exactly small. Furthermore, if two or more swim in a line they could easily be far enough apart that they would look like the humps of some sort of enormous animal. Otters are playful and they do chase each other, both in and out of the water.

The article goes on to compare a 2011 photograph which allegedly depicts the monster with Wills' otter photograph, and notes that both depict similar shapes. While that's true up to a point, I still think the 2011 image looks more like a sturgeon than an otter. If we had a video we could see which way the creature is moving, and that would help answer the question. A sturgeon would be moving to the left of the frame, while an otter would be moving to the right. In the latter case, the back "hump" would be the tail, which to me looks too tall to be that of an otter. But you be the judge.

I do think that what Wills' picture shows is that otters are likely responsible for some of the monster sightings in the loch. Perhaps the confusion is caused by some people seeing sturgeons and others seeing otters, and their reports all assumed to describe different views of the same creature. Add in the occasional fraud like the famous "surgeon's photograph," and there you have the Nessie legend. One point on which Wills and I agree is that Nessie is probably not an unknown species, but rather a known animal of some sort being viewed under unusual circumstances.

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